Microsoft revamps SkyDrive cloud storage with HTML5, kicks Silverlight to the curb

After seemingly being ignored for months, Microsoft announced a major facelift for its SkyDrive cloud storage service today. Gone is the SkyDrive site’s reliance on Silverlight, Microsoft’s Flash competitor for interactive websites, in favor of a faster HTML5-driven interface.

Speed is the biggest benefit with the redesign, since SkyDrive no longer has to rely on the clunky Silverlight plugin. By relying on HTML5, which is supported on pretty much every current major browser, Microsoft can deliver interactive features with something that’s already built into your web browser. The redesign also offers an easier to navigate interface and a better photo viewing experience.

Common tasks, like opening folders and browsing photo albums, have gone from speeds of 6 to 9 seconds to a near-instant 100 to 300 milliseconds, thanks to HTML5’s hardware acceleration capabilities. Microsoft says other core tasks will be sped up in the future.

Groups support has also been added to SkyDrive, which will make it easier to find and share all of your files. Microsoft says it paid considerable attention to simplifying the SkyDrive experience. Folders in the service now resemble typical Windows folders more closely, and ads have been removed in exchange for a useful file information pane.

The new SkyDrive photos interface also takes advantage of the move to HTML5 and Microsoft’s reignited focus on usability. Photos now expand to fit the full size of your web browser. Thanks to the new CSS3 Transitions standard, photo thumbnails will be instantly rearranged as you re-size the browser window. Microsoft also removed photo pages altogether, so now you can infinitely scroll through all of the photos in a particular folder. And of course, SkyDrive now sports a revamped album viewer that also supports H.264 encoded videos (up to 100 megabytes).

Given how much Microsoft was able to improve SkyDrive by dropping Silverlight, it’s no real surprise the company said last year that it was shifting its Silverlight strategy. Now Silverlight is being positioned more as Windows Phone 7’s development platform, and Microsoft is pushing HTML5 wholeheartedly for its web services. It’s no surprise then that HTML5 is a major feature in Internet Explorer 9 as well as in the upcoming Mango update of Windows Phone 7.